Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Now for some fiction! THE OTHER ANNA by Barbara Esstman is an unusual, powerful novel whose spell , I would guess, will remain with readers for a long time. The story is set in New Marango, Iowa, a town between Storm Lake and Spirit Lake during 1920.
Sixteen-year-old Anna Berter recalls life from her childhood to the present, when a series of events causes her to question her identity and her relationship to her parents.
Anna's mother, whom she calls the Prussian, controls the entire family, even her physician husband, and wields great influence over other townspeople. When Edwina, the maid and granddaughter of the family's housekeeper, becomes pregnant out of wedlock, the Prussian banishes both of them from the household, insists on adopting the baby, and refuses to let the two see the child.
The consummate Victorian, the Prussian tries to protect Anna from unpleasant reality and chooses to ignore anything and anyone she considers objectionable. In spite of her mother's efforts, however, Anna sees or experiences many of the rites of passage to womanhood. And she bears guilty feelings for her role in Edwina's plight.
What I found both strange but intriguing is that the life of a Midwestern Victorian family is told within the framework of an ancient Celtic legend of the selchies (or selkies). They are seals with supernatural ability to shed their skins and fall in love with humans, mate, and live on dry land. But when longing for water grows too strong, they don their sealskins and return to the sea, eventually re-emerging to claim their children.
Author Barbara Esstman may live in Virginia, but she knows how a rippling Iowa cornfield can resemble the sea. Although this book was not wildly popular when it was published, Hallmark Hall of Fame chose to produce it as SECRETS, and I enjoyed Esstman's writing so much I want to read more of her work.

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